It is a fruit tree or shrub. The tree is commonly referred to as ‘custard apple’. The plant has both enormous nutritional and medicinal benefits.
It is a low, erect tree, with a rounded or spreading crown and trunk of about 25-35cm thick, which grows to a height that ranges from 5-10m. Its leaves are deciduous, alternate, and oblong or narrow lanceolate, about 10-20cm long and 2-5cm wide, with conspicuous veins. The flowers are fragrant and slender, with three narrow petals of light-green and pale-yellow colour. The fruits of the custard apple are big and heart-shaped, with a size of 8-16cm in diameter and turn yellow or brownish when ripe, with a thick, cream-white layer of custard-like pulp, which is very sweet.
Like most medicinal plants, Annona Reticulata is also known by different names in different countries and communities. This fruit tree is popularly known as seethaphal in India. Similarly, in Uganda, the Luo ethnic group, particularly the Acholi call it adunu while the Ganda ethnic group call it bisitafeeri. The plant is referred to as mchekwa in the Kiswahili language in Kenya and Tanzania and other Kiswahili speaking countries. In Zambia, it is popularly known as mtopa.
Annona reticulata has enormous nutritional and medicinal benefits. Ethnobotanically, a decoction of the leaf of Annona Reticulata is given to treat parasitic worms and its crushed leaves or a paste of the flesh is poulticed on boils, abscesses and ulcers as treatment.
The unripe fruit is used against diarrhea and dysentery, skin diseases, fever, malaria, peptic ulcers, colic and oedema. In addition, the peel from the immature fruits is specifically claimed to manage dyspepsia, diarrhea and chronic dysentery. It is also used to induce vomiting, in the case of poisoning. The crushed unripe fruit can be dried, and used for treating external parasites like lice in homes.
Meanwhile, the ripe fruits are very important to expectant mothers, as it is believed to give proper skin, eyes, hair and body tissues to the foetus and is also used against the common morning sickness for expectant mothers. Generally, eating the fruit of the custard apple has been claimed traditionally to manage nausea, numbness, mood swings and food cravings during pregnancy. Even individuals with digestion problems and constipation have been recommended by traditional healers to eat the ripe fruits of Annona reticulata, thus making the stool softer. In addition, consumption of the fruit pulp is claimed to lower the risk of rheumatism and arthritis in most individuals and regular consumption of the fruit pulp juice accelerates the recovery process of wounds. It is also interesting to note that a number of communities recommend regular eating of the fruits as a natural remedy for the treatment and management of diabetes and a shield against other conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and cancer. The powdered seeds of the fruits are mixed with water or milk and administered as a potent potion that can expel toxic ingested materials, but the cooked flowers and petals instead are used for healing eye inflammation.
The stem is very astringent and traditional healers administer its decoction as a remedy for diarrhea, dysentery, diabetes, snake bite, body swelling and trypanosomiasis. However, infusions of the leaves have also been used to treat diabetes as well as gastric upsets and kidney complications. The sap from the stem is applied to cuts and wounds as a treatment. The leaf decoction is administered to destroy or expel parasitic worms from patients’ bodies. Crushed leaves or a paste from the flesh can be applied as a poultice on boils, abscesses and ulcers. The leaves are also used for their powerful insecticidal activity, especially for destroying lice. In severe cases, the leaves, bark and green fruits are all boiled together with water to make an exceedingly potent decoction.
The root bark powder is specifically put around the gums to relieve toothache and it’s also popularly used to relieve fever. The root bark decoction is also administered to treat worms, cancer, convulsion, venereal disease, diarrhea, dysentery, fever, filariosis and male impotence.
Apart from the ethnomedicinal uses, custard apple has other important uses for communities. For instance, the Annona Reticulata bark can be used to produce dyes which are used in art and craft. The tree can also produce good wood for making tool handles. However, the young leaves are used as vegetables while its flower buds are used to flavor foods. It is generally a wonder plant with enormous food and medicinal uses. Its consumption as a fruit makes it more sustainable for a number of communities. As the saying goes, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. This old adage could well be used for Annona Reticulata because, like apples, its fruit is simply brimming with goodness. This explains why this tree is guarded jealously in the communities where it is found.